Farmers protest: tractor parade sparks violence in Delhi
Scenes of chaos at the Red Fort dominated television on Republic Day, eclipsing the long and patient protest by farmers, after a deviation from the agreed route by some participants of the Kisan Parade led to violence that left one farmer dead and many protesters and policemen injured.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the banner under which almost 500 farmer unions have been seeking repeal of three new farm laws, condemned the violence and distanced itself from those who had broken through police barricades and reached Red Fort where they hoisted the Nishan Sahib and farmer union flags.
The Morcha pointed out that the majority had stuck to the designated routes for the tractor rally and had marched peacefully as promised. At 6pm, it called off the parade and appealed to all participants to return immediately to their respective protest sites amid reports of a continuing face-off between the group at Red Fort and the police that was in turn encouraging other farmers to move towards the Old City. It took time for the word to get out, with the Centre snapping Internet and mobile services at five protest sites.
At the time the parade was called off, there were still queues of tractors waiting at the Singhu border for their turn to enter Delhi to join a parade that they had hoped would win the hearts of the country. The farmers had even made tableaux representing different states and showcasing their lives for the parade. But none of this got any notice, as clashes between the protesters who broke away from the schedule and the police hogged the limelight.
In the run-up to the parade, Morcha leaders had issued repeated appeals for peace and order, wary that any breach might spiral out of control because patience had been running thin among the farmers, protesting peacefully on the road for 60 days now. The government had come across to them as unfeeling, with the Prime Minister not even uttering a word of sympathy for the around 160 farmers who have died at the protests, many because of the biting cold and several by suicide. Ministers had repeatedly come late to talks with the farmer leaders and have been dismissive of the protesters.
Several farmer unions and the police seemed to agree that actor Deep Sidhu and gangster-turned-social worker Lakha Sidhana were responsible for instigating the youth to march towards Red Fort and hoist the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag. Some of the farmer unions saw a conspiracy in the whole turn of events and asked how the group could breach Republic Day security and reach Red Fort.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (Kadian) leader Harmeet Singh Kadian issued a statement asking whether this could have happened without the involvement of the agencies, and should not the home minister resign for this breach in security.
Along with the BKU (Kadian), at least two other unions, the BKU-Ekta (Ugrahan) and the BKU (Dakaunda), have accused Deep Sidhu of trying to damage the movement. Joginder Singh Ugrahan — who heads the largest farmer union in Punjab — accused Sidhu and Lakha Sidhana of inciting youths to take over the movement and give it a religious colour.
Sidhu, who was the campaign manager for BJP MP Sunny Deol in the 2019 elections, said in a video statement that to register their symbolic protest, “we hoisted the Nishan Sahib and a union flag”. He added that they did not remove any flag. It had been alleged that the National Flag had been taken down. Pointing out that the Tricolour was flying high above the two flags they had hoisted, he projected it as a reflection of India’s “unity in diversity”.
The Morcha had much earlier barred Sidhu, who has been seen at the Singhu border, from using their stage. Deol also had distanced himself from Sidhu after he backed the agitation. Sidhu has received NIA summons in a case against the Khalistani group Sikhs for Justice.
Trouble began early in the morning when followers of the Kisan Sangharsh Mazdoor Committee (KSMC), which is part of the talks with the Centre but is not part of the Morcha, breached barricades at the Singhu border and moved towards Delhi before the designated hour.
The KSMC had announced on Monday that it would not follow the route the Morcha had agreed on with the police. Once the border was breached, it became difficult for the Morcha leaders to rein in the others and the rally began moving towards Delhi though it had been agreed that the tractors would enter the national capital only after the main Republic Day Parade.
The KSMC decision had left the Morcha leaders worried because they were afraid it might lead to violence as patience had been running thin among the farmers.
As word broke of the rally beginning at Singhu, the Bharatiya Kisan Union-Ekta (Ugrahan) — which too was not happy with the designated route but had decided to go along with it — began moving at Tikri, and the farmers converged at Ghazipur also followed suit. At all three sites, the police did not seem to use their full force to stop the farmers in what appeared to be a spirit of accommodation.
But this spirit was abandoned when some of the farmers sought to deviate from the designated routes and move towards Outer Ring Road. The ITO witnessed particularly aggressive behaviour by a section of farmers. In the melee, one farmer was killed. While the farmers alleged that he died in police firing, another version was that he died when his tractor overturned while trying to ram into a barricade.
Hours before they called off the parade, several union leaders issued appeals on social media on behalf of the Morcha to stick to the designated routes and to unequivocally condemn the violence.
The Morcha asserted that their peaceful movement against the three farm laws would continue.
ITO and Red Fort: The farmers clashed with police at ITO before moving to Red Fort, where some hoisted the Nishan Sahib on a flag pole. While many in the crowd vacated the fort after the police and union leaders issued appeals, some refused to leave till evening.
Karnal bypass: A group that deviated from the prescribed route and tried to move towards Outer Ring Road was teargassed and water cannoned at the Muqarba Chowk on the Karnal bypass.
Akshardham: The group of farmers moving from Ghazipur tried to push past the barricades and head towards Outer Delhi on the eastern side of the city and were teargasssed. Some pushed past the police cordon and went on to the Outer Ring Road before returning to Uttar Pradesh via the DND flyover. Others moved towards ITO.
Nangloi: Nangloi was tense all day as farmers insisted on going towards Peeragarhi to take the Outer Ring Road in the western side of the capital. As news reached about
the developments at Red Fort, many wanted to proceed there, resulting in a confrontation with the police.